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'Last chance saloon'

Posted by Smokey Stover on April 22, 2006

In Reply to: 'Last chance saloon' posted by Mal Evans on April 21, 2006

: : Where does the phrase 'Last chance saloon' come from?
: From a saloon in Caldwell City, Kansas built in 1869. It was so called because it was the last place to by a legal alcoholic drink before passing into Indian country where the possession and sale of alcohol was forbidden.
: It has latterly been used in a political context in the UK e.g. in an interview by Jonathan Dimbleby with the then Home secretary Kenneth Clarke in 1992 where Dimbleby posed the question whether the upcoming Tory party conference was the last chance saloon for John Major's government.
: I think it was used some time before, again in politics by a Thatcher government chancellor.
: What is certain is that it has become a cliche in sports, politics and journalism generally.
: It even appears as part of a mixed metaphor in an environmetal report, "High Noon at The Last Chance Saloon".

The Caldwell "Last Chance Saloon" became the "First Chance Saloon" on the face of the sign that greeted drovers headed back from the alcoholically dry Indian territory. The saloon was burned down in 1874 by a posse that thought some outlaws had holed up in the saloon.

It is just possible that all those people using "Last Chance Saloon" as a metaphor, or as a book title in the case of Marian Keyes, were not thinking of the Caldwell saloon, but of Heinold's First and Last Chance Saloon on the Oakland, California, waterfront. It had been in business for years before changing its name to the one just mentioned, in 1920. It was a small place, with just five bar-stools and three tables, but was a haunt of Jack London, who mentioned it 17 times in his writings. It got its name from the fact that it was the last bar where you could get a drink if you were boarding the Oakland ferry, the first if you were getting off.

It is still in business, located at 56 Jack London Square. I have visited the locale, although not that saloon. But I can testify to the vitality of the place when the sailors are in town.

I tend to believe that the familiarity of the phrase "Last Chance Saloon" depends largely on Jack London's references to it. London's works used to be much more popular than they are today, but anyone who likes movies may have seen, say, Call of the Wild, or White Fang. Indeed, I named one of my cats White Fang before there was a movie, having been a Jack London reader myself. SS